Q: My best friend—and former teammate—just got promoted at work and now she’s my boss! I’m jealous, of course, but I also feel like it has changed our relationship. What advice do you have for working with her in this new way while not losing our friendship? Is that even possible?
I can understand that having your best friend as your new boss is not easy. It’s not only the relationship you have with each other that you need to consider, but also how your colleagues react to your relationship with their boss. You could be given the better projects based on merit, but your colleagues may think it’s due to favoritism. If you want to maintain your friendship with your new boss, here are a couple of things to consider.
You will need to get clear around your feelings of jealousy.
It’s going to be hard to maintain a close friendship, which includes mutual support, when you are jealous of your friend’s success. Even if you think you are keeping your feelings well hidden, your new boss/best friend is almost certainly picking up on this. Use this as an opportunity for self-reflection. Usually when feelings of jealousy come up, there is an underlying misunderstanding that we feel unworthy about ourselves or not enough. And I say it’s a misunderstanding because the reality is, your worth is not defined by what you do or what promotion your best friend gets. You are worthy just for being you. Looking for the learning opportunity, you can use this incident as a time for self-reflection and personal healing.
Adopt the ‘If she can do it, so can I’ attitude.
Instead of being jealous of your friend, see her promotion as inspiration for you to move up the corporate ladder—whether at this firm or another. Ask her what she did to make the move. Was she working longer hours than you, is she better at self-promotion? Did she develop key relationships that helped in her promotion? Perhaps you need further training to match her skill set. As Anthony Robbins says—success leaves clues. So look for the clues, and if you want a similar promotion, emulate her success.
Maintain the friendship, develop good boundaries.
If you are going to continue with a close friendship, then you will both need to hold good boundaries, agreeing ahead of time how you are going to relate to each other in and out of the office. Boundaries in this situation will be very important, particularly around confidentiality. Neither of you will want to be sharing personal information after hours and risk it being used against you in the office. Even though she is your best friend, as your new boss she has a commitment to the company to build the best team she can. And based on knowledge of you, both professional and personal, she is now in a position to greatly impact your career. Keep in mind, your friend will almost certainly be privy to sensitive and confidential company information as a manager. She will most likely not be able to share this with you, even if it directly affects your job. Getting clear inside yourself that she is doing her job, versus withholding from the friendship, can be helpful in avoiding feelings of betrayal.
Further boundaries; boss by day, friend by night.
How do you see yourself handling a disagreement with your boss during the day, but meeting for a cocktail with her as your friend in the evening? I’m guessing she will be responsible for your end-of-year reviews and play an important role in your future promotion or pay increases. How do you feel about this? And are you a respectful and responsible employee who turns up to work on time and meets deadlines? Your friend may be ok if you’re 20 minutes late on the weekend, but not 20 minutes late for a meeting at work. Agreeing on the professional and personal boundaries upfront will be essential in adjusting to the new relationship dynamics.
Outline a clear job description, with identifiable goals.
Outlining a clear job description, identifying goals and setting expectations will also help in managing this transition. I would recommend doing this whether your best friend is your boss or not. This way both parties are clear as to what is expected of them, and it’s harder to confuse the professional with the personal. If you’ve worked hard, met your goals and your boss nominates you for a year-end promotion or pay increase, it’s hard for other team members to think it’s due to favoritism. Equally, if you’ve missed previously agreed performance targets, the exchange of constructive feedback with your boss should be easier when it comes time for your year-end review.
Encourage honest and clear communication with your best friend.
Your best friend will be going through a transition as she assimilates the increased responsibilities of her new job and managing a team. She probably needs her best friend right now. There may be hiccups along the way, but if you both get clear about what you intend for your friendship, as well as agreeing upon some clear boundaries, then I’m sure you can continue to grow and deepen the relationship.